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sewing puffed sleeves

Puffed sleeves are, without question, my very favorite kind of sleeve. They're so adorable, right for so very many outfits, and not all that hard to sew. I'll show you.


First you'll need a pattern.  You can either draft one, as shown in the Drafting Sleeves lesson, or you can use mine:

Puffed Sleeve

Sizes 3m-10


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This is a short puffed sleeve bound at the bottom with bias French binding.  You could also finish it with double fold binding.


For each sleeve, cut 1 sleeve and 1 binding strip.  The binding strip length should be the child's arm measurement plus 2".  For the width, please see the note on French binding below, at the *. 


Loosen your sewing machine tension to nearly 0. Stitch two rows along the top of the sleeve. One goes just inside the seamline, the other halfway between the first one and the raw edge. Begin and end these rows just above the curve as shown in the picture below here. These are your gathering threads.

Sew two more gathering threads along the bottom of the sleeve, again, just inside the seamline and halfway between this and the raw edge.  Begin and end about 1" from each end. 

*A note here on the bottom-of-the-sleeve seam allowance.  We're using French binding on this sleeve, and the seam allowance width is determined by the final desired width of the binding. Want a 3/8" binding? Use a 3/8" seam allowance.  1/4" binding?  1/4" seam allowance.  And so on. 

Now, everything I've read about French binding says to cut a bias strip that's six times as wide as your final finished binding. So if you want a 1/4" binding, you need a strip that's 1 1/2" wide. This is supposed to work if your seam allowances are the same width as the finished binding.  Fair enough. I've always found that adding an extra 1/8" to 1/4" makes things work easier for me. I think that in folding the fabric around and back and forth, you lose some of your width to the logistics of folding.

So, I cut a binding that's a scant seven times my finished width. I am using a 1/4" seam allowance.  I wanted a 1/4" binding, so I cut it on the shy side of 1 3/4".  Cut it 1 1/2" longer than the measurement around the child's arm.  Fold it wrong sides together and press it like this.

Now, pin the raw edges of the folded binding to the raw lower edge of the sleeve. The binding should be on the wrong side of the sleeve. Match the short ends of the binding to the underarm seam, and match the center of the sleeve to the center of the binding. Put a pin at each end of the gathering threads. Pull the bobbin threads to gather the lower edge of the sleeve until it fits the binding. Wrap the threads, figure-8-style, around the pin.

Adjust the gathers until they look nice. Here you can either distribute the gathers evenly across the whole sleeve edge, or pack most of them in the center. The center-packing thing just gives it a puffier look you may like.

(Return your sewing machine tension to normal and) sew along the upper gathering thread.

Press the seam flat, the same way you sewed it, and then fold the binding and seam allowance away from the sleeve and press them. Fold the folded edge around to the front, making sure it covers your previous stitching and pin it. Here's where you'll appreciate that little extra width.

Here's a closer look.

Now stitch very close to the folded edge, carefully making sure you're still covering that stitching.

Press the binding again.

Place the underarm seam right sides together and stitch it. Finish the seam however you finish seams.

Press the seam allowance open, making sure that it doesn't show below the lower edge of the binding. Trimming it as shown below helps, as do a few little hand stitches just to hold the bottoms of that seam allowance in place.  

Right side of the underarm seam:

Pull up the upper gathering threads and it puffs:

Do it all over again for the other sleeve, and you have a pair of cute puffed sleeves, just waiting for the right pair of armholes to come along.


Reader Comments (3)

thank you!!!!!! thank you!!!!!! thank you!!!!!!!!
i've been looking all over the web for a simpel clean and well presented diagrame.
from israel..thank you!!!!!!

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterleeatpo

Thank you! This is a really easy to use and follow tutorial- and has been a great help especially in my sewing classes!!!

March 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStella Maye

Very helpful tutorial. Thanks a bunch. The puffed sleeve looks cute.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJudy Arnold

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